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After kicking this idea around in my head for months, I’m finally ready to launch this site. Updates may be sporadic due to travel and health constraints, but I’ll do the best I can. I’m excited to use the Toymaker Project to explore technological empowerment, sexuality and pleasure.
What is technological empowerment, anyways? The basic idea is that someone who is technologically empowered has taken some piece of technology and modified it to meet their own needs. I’m defining technology here pretty broadly — not just computers and high-tech gadgets, but almost anything that people make. In that sense, a computer and a mixing bowl are both human technology.
I first heard the phase “technological empowerment” when I was a graduate student. One of the labs I worked in did a number of projects which were designed to promote technological empowerment. When I started researching this blog post, I found several mentions of the term in papers from my colleagues1, but I couldn’t find a technical definition. The best I can do right now is to provide a few examples.
If you buy a cell phone, and you use it to call your friends, that makes you a consumer of technology…but that doesn’t really demonstrate technological empowerment. You aren’t really changing it to meet your needs or building something new.2
Where things get interesting is when people start modifying, adapting, or building technology to meet their own needs. So if you take that new cell phone, and you build a new antenna for it, or you write a brand new app, that’s technological empowerment. Or maybe you don’t like the case that the phone came with, so you stick some sugru on it for some extra shock protection. In any case, the technology as it is–the cell phone, its case or its software right of the box–doesn’t quite work for you. So you hack it or you build something new: that’s technological empowerment.
The DIY (Do It Yourself) movement is all about technological empowerment. If you flip through the pages of Make magazine, you stroll through Maker Faire, or you click through Lifehacker or Instructables, you’ll see many more examples.
What does technological empowerment have to do with sexuality? For hundreds, if not thousands of years, people have been making things for their own pleasure. (If you want to see some really old sex toys from around the world, go check out the Sex Museum in Amsterdam.) These days it is easier than ever to become a consumer of sexual technology. Thanks to the growth of the internet, you can now buy a dizzying array of sex toys and equipment from your own home.
Beyond becoming consumers, the next step is for people to do it themselves. No two people have the exact same biology, sexuality, needs or desires. I don’t believe that off-the-shelf sex toys or equipment can meet everyone’s needs. Commercial products also tend to be very expensive, so DIY alternatives can help to make toys more accessible. Promoting technological empowerment for sexuality and pleasure is about enabling people to build and modify objects around them so they can have the kinds of experiences that they want to have.